I always knew I would go down the Fitness road eventually. It was a revelation that happened all of a sudden, do you want to know when? when I found the courage to cut down the elements that were holding me back😊. Now, the competition came to me as a goal, something to work towards. “I am meant to be doing this” – is the thought that was constantly banging on my head, it was just a matter of time.
I began to ‘explore the field’ of competing about three years ago. I got a glimpse of what it was going to be when I started designing my own nutritional plans and see what worked and what didn’t. Along with trying different types of exercise, although for me the food aspect was the most challenging and also the most influential in order to get that body. It wasn’t so much the type of food, because I’ve always eaten quite healthy, but the quantities (aside from not eating pulses, beans, bread, root vegs in bigger quantities, or cheese😢!).
At some point before deciding to go for it, I was quite slim for my wide frame, eating very little protein and doing hours of aerobics (tell a musician/performer not to move to music🤷♀️), krav maga, walking for hours and body conditioning, and still not getting the ‘shape’ I wanted. My idea of strength training was quite mild compared to the real thing (although my aim was to compete in the bikini category, which is lean but not too muscular, still). About two years ago, I sought advice from a professional competitor, and I started seeing the changes that proper strength training and the right foods brought me. After four months into plan, I realized I wasn’t ready to compete yet. So I paused. Because, you see, it’s not about going to the shop, getting a pair of jeans and go home happily. It’s about doing something that’s going to change not only your eating/training habits, but also your MIND and your LIFE gradually, slowly, and forever. Then I went into prepping again with a different colleague who guided me for 3 months. Then I rested for a month, I wasn’t ready yet. Then I tried another coach for a couple of months, just to see a different perspective. Then I stopped. I got this massive emotional breakdown (external factors) that led me into very bad lower back pain, having to stop working and training altogether because I literally couldn’t walk. The impact of emotions on our physical body, eh? (see my article on this here).
The first thing I must tell you is this: the journey isn’t linear. Generally fitness competitors do 6-8 weeks of strict prepping, if they are already “fit” (although this is widely relative and subjective). Me, being the nerd I can be, I wanted to study myself a bit more and so I started prepping 7 months (that is 30 weeks) before the competition. Then I finally decided I was ready, and there was no going back, whatever happened. Once decided, I was determined to go with everything I’ve got, otherwise what’s the point? This was with myself, for myself, to myself💪.
The first few weeks I stuck to plan religiously. But after 4-5 weeks, in the process of getting used to the changes, I started having weird gut reactions, so I went easier on the strictness of the food for a couple of weeks and took some recommended supplements that aggravated the situation. Along with it, aches, working a lot and not resting enough, until I was ready to go back on track. A few weeks full on and then again, I fell again. I knew it wouldn’t be a straight road, so I gave myself enough time to recover after the falls, because that is how you carve your way into permanent habits and choices: TIME. I knew with me it would be a case of 3 steps forwards, 1 backwards, 4 forwards, 2 backwards, 2 forwards, 2 backwards, etc. But all in all always forwards. #life
The two bits of advice that resume my journey:
“There’s only one way of doing things: by doing them.”
“Do what you have to do, not what you want to do.”
In terms of training, I had three big eye-openers that I knew in theory but hadn’t fully experienced:
- How muscle grows by pushing yourself to the hardest bearable pain (doing that extra rep at max. intensity) until it’s not painful anymore and you keep on increasing intensity;
- How one gets stronger and stronger as fat disappears and muscle increases;
- How quickly gains can be lost if you are not consistent enough, and at the same time how the body keeps memory and metabolic rate so that you don’t have to worry about eating some cake or pizza from time to time.
In terms of protocols, I found the most effective results for me following this structure:
- 1st Period: Total body high reps / low intensity, alternating mixed/same muscle group supersets with a bit of cardio in between.
- 2nd Period: Muscle groups per day, unilateral exercises, inverted pyramid supersets.
- 3rd Period: Muscle groups per day, isolated muscle exhaustion, dropsets, single sets.
All in all, the training part was the less challenging, finding it surprisingly easy to increase intensity every week, as muscle grew. The benefits of Strength Training 🙂
A not-so-popular (or totally unpopular) perspective that you won’t hear many people mention is the awareness factor during prepping. The following may work best with people who already have a healthy consistency, rather than someone who has never watched their food. When I look back at my body before prepping, experimenting with food, I was actually much less worried about when and what my next meal was going to be, although I still counted my calories. Following a meal plan is surely going to give you results, but you need to listen to your body, and so ‘Chest Day’ might become ‘Rest Day’, and broccoli & chicken might become porridge and protein powder. The aim of food prepping (aside from having the right macronutrient proportions) is to getting the body used to flavours and textures that are optimal nutritional options for your body, so that you don’t crave processed, sugary foods. Consider this: don’t focus your energy on thinking about the meals/training before it’s time to eat/do them, and you will have less “falls” in the program. Your body will naturally balance and ask for what it needs.
Reviewing my journey, I know I could have done much better, I know where I failed and the areas that I need to work on. Going forwards, my plan is to grow more muscle and to get stronger, after a few weeks of ‘rest’. I want to keep learning and improving myself. Hopefully less or no falls from now on😊.